Classic, Antique or Vintage?

This post is an edited excerpt from the book “Drop, Throttle, Oversteer: Collecting and Investing in Classic Cars” by Jason Paynter, who is also a certified appraiser of classic cars through G.D. Herring. Contact Jason today at to learn more about he can help you with your classic car appraisal!

So what is the difference between “classic,” “antique,” and “vintage” cars? This can be a little confusing, but here we go. There are differences, and important ones, but it all kind of depends on whom you’re talking to. Some people use the terms interchangeably, and there are others who think standardization is really important.

Buying and selling works better when everyone understands what everyone else is talking about. Some states have even made efforts to legally codify these terms for cars. It’s that important.


Government involvement also has a lot to do with taxation. Most states waive certain fees and taxes for “vintage” or “classic” automobiles, while those taxes and fees do apply to “antique” cars. It’s going to take a little research on your part to discover what your state’s laws and rules are, as well as how your state distinguishes between these types of cars.


A car is deemed “antique” by individual states, but generally has to be 45 years old or more. States will sometimes have designated license plates for cars they consider antique, as well as other special privileges like exemption from vehicle inspection. Many states also have rules about the car being kept to its original specifications. These special considerations can come with a potential downside as well. For instance, you may be limited in how much you can actually drive the car, which can be restricted to parades, to and from maintenance appointments, and an occasional spin within a range of miles (usually around 250) every once in a while.

Classic Vs Antique

The distinction between “classic” and “antique” is a little fuzzy and the two designations have a lot in common. Classic cars are usually between 20 and 40 years old and are also generally expected to be kept in line with their original build specifications. Most who consider themselves “classic car collectors,” though, are going to have some cars older than 40 years in their stable. Does that make them “antique” car collectors? Technically yes, but practically, not really. In that regard, the terms are pretty interchangeable. You might not have your technically “antique” car registered as an antique, and it doesn’t really matter. But it’s still good to know this point because it will help you navigate through conversations with other collectors more effectively.


Vintage cars are another classification and again, there is some gray area. This term is generally used for cars built between 1919 and 1930, and they are allowed to have modifications. These two differences are the biggest distinction between Vintage cars and Classic and Antique cars.

At the end of the day, while these terms can be a little confusing it’s important to have a basic understanding of them so you can “talk the talk” in the collector world. You’ll start to understand the nuances better as you go along and you’ll also figure out what they mean to you. This will deepen your collecting experience and help you make better decisions about the cars you acquire as you develop your knowledge and skills in car collecting.


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